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Health Systems Launch Technician Training Programs

Oct 15, 2019

Matt Kelm, Pharm.D., M.H.A.

AN INCREASING NUMBER OF HEALTH SYSTEMS are realizing the benefits of creating their own pharmacy technician training programs. With 10 health-system-based tech training programs in the United States either accredited or in the process of getting accredited, institutions are taking control of the training process. This helps ensure the quality of new hires, enhances the skill set of existing employees, and improves retention within their organizations.

Duke University
“Health system pharmacy departments have a lot of experience training pharmacy residents and students, so it’s a logical extension to include pharmacy technicians in that educational effort,” said Matt Kelm, Pharm.D., M.H.A., Associate Chief Pharmacy Officer at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. He helped launch the tech training program, officially called the Duke University Health System Pharmacy Technology Training Program, in April 2018.

Like other programs that meet the recent Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and ASHP accreditation standards, the Duke program involves didactic, simulation-based, and experiential learning. The didactic component and some of the simulation training is offered online, which allows students to balance home and work life with training.

“There is plenty of on-site time,” said Dr. Kelm. “The experiential training, in particular, allows students to work alongside technicians in the ambulatory and inpatient environments. [It] offers us a chance to get to know candidates before offering them a position. I often describe the program to the students as a 10- to 15-week job interview.”

Many graduates of the Duke program, which runs three cohorts a year, enter traditional medication distribution and preparation positions. The program also provides opportunities for existing technicians at Duke to learn how to perform more advanced functions.

An 85% technician retention rate within the health system attests to trainee satisfaction with the program, and more broadly, with the opportunities Duke provides, Dr. Kelm noted.

Aubrey Dy-Cok, C.Ph.T.

For their part, technicians like Aubrey Dy-Cok, C.Ph.T., who graduated from the Duke program in 2019, have a variety of reasons for enrolling in health system-based technician training programs.

“I was a pharmacist in the Philippines before moving to the United States, but I can’t practice here yet,” explained Dy-Cok. “I eventually want to become a pharmacist here, but things work quite different than in the Philippines. Studying to be a pharmacy technician was one way to get to know how health systems operate here.” Today, Dy-Cok works at one of Duke’s compounding facilities.

Yale-New Haven
At Connecticut’s Yale-New Haven Hospital, students enrolled in the pharmacy technician training program learn the hard skills required to perform in a hospital or health system setting.

Students learn about sterile compounding and complete a professionalism boot camp during the first week of the program. “We talk about leadership, and how to handle sticky situations and adapt to change,” said Janet Kozakiewicz, Pharm.D., M.S., FASHP, Director of Pharmacy Services at the hospital. “Starting a professional career is a big transition for some students, whether they’re coming out of high school, a college-type program, or if they have been out of school for a long time.”

There is also a “how to dress for success” section and a segment that discusses “what it takes to be part of a large organization like Yale-New Haven,” said Dr. Kozakiewicz. “If you become an employee here, your hand isn’t held. There are expectations when you graduate from the program.” She hopes that the lessons in professionalism and leadership also translate to other parts of a student’s life.

Up to eight students are enrolled every 10 weeks into Yale-New Haven’s ACPE/ASHP-accredited 20-week training program. Although Connecticut only requires a registration for technicians to work and does not require licensure or certification, there is a demand for graduates of Yale’s program, Dr. Kozakiewicz noted.

She believes part of the reason for the program’s high enrollment is that most students have their tuition paid for, either by the Department of Labor or by the health system, in exchange for a work commitment. “Because we’re trying to push for national requirements that health systems only hire technicians who have completed an accredited training program, training through a program like ours is part of a sustainable employment model for technicians for the future,” said Dr. Kozakiewicz.

Working at a large organization like Yale-New Haven following successful completion of the program and licensure is another reason students are drawn to the program, she explained. “Being a 1,500-bed academic medical center, we always have opportunities, and because we have 17 infusion centers across the state, employees can often work at a cancer center close to their home,” said Dr. Kozakiewicz.

With Yale-New Haven hiring 85% of the program’s graduates, none of whom have left to work elsewhere, the health system has benefited by having a steady stream of qualified candidates. “The program has also offered employed pharmacy technicians at Yale-New Haven the chance to serve as preceptors in the program, helping them advance through the career ladder and offering a means for career development,” she added.

Beaumont Health
According to ASHP President, Kathy Pawlicki, M.S., B.S., FASHP, Vice President and Chief Pharmacist at Beaumont Health in Detroit, skilled and dedicated pharmacy technicians are what many health systems are interested in, which is why we are in the process of creating our own training program.

Kathy Pawlicki, M.S., B.S., FASHP

Like many organizations, Beaumont Health has been experiencing a pharmacy technician shortage for a while now. “With variability in the quality of training programs within the community, we believe that creating our own program is the best way to make sure we have quality trained and educated pharmacy technicians to supply our workforce,”  Pawlicki said.

Beaumont’s first cohort is slated to enter the classroom this month, and so far, the process of developing and rolling out a training program has gone smoothly. “Knock on wood, we haven’t had any serious difficulties,” said Pawlicki. “We completed a five-year pro forma on the program, and it showed a very favorable return on investment, so the senior leadership was extremely supportive.”

The variety of pharmacy settings Beaumont offers students to rotate through makes it an attractive program, she noted. Trainees have the option to gain experience at one of eight acute care pharmacies, 12 outpatient retail pharmacies, and a home infusion pharmacy. “Beaumont has a very well-recognized reputation within the community, and the potential to be employed here is really attractive, as is the fact that we support students financially by offsetting all of the costs of the program in exchange for a two-year work commitment at Beaumont,” Pawlick added.

Ultimately, Pawlicki believes the growing number of ACPE/ASHP-accredited health system technician training programs is part of a movement to professionalize the field. Standardizing technician education and training creates a baseline of entry-level skills that technicians bring to their job, she said. “I’m excited for our program, and others like it across the country,” explained Pawlicki. “I think they have a very positive impact on our technician workforce.”


By David Wild

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